Yale and Gaza


Our daughter Adina and son-in-law Peter divide their time between Israel and the U.S. They were in Jerusalem on Saturday, October 7th when Hamas carried out its horrific massacre of innocent Israelis. Independent of that, they were scheduled to fly back to the U.S. two days later to fulfill various professional obligations. With all the flight cancelations, except for Israel’s own carrier, El Al, it took them almost a week to get out, but for now they are in their second home in New Haven, where they have, along with an Egyptian colleague on the faculty, written this statement about the war, which has been signed by many Yale faculty and staff and reprinted as a letter in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

The air is thick with statements by individuals and organizations right now, but this one I find especially balanced and focused on the misdeeds on both sides – the war crimes and the crimes against humanity that we are obligated to oppose on moral and legal grounds. I hope you find something in it that speaks to your own thoughts and feelings about this tragic situation.

Statement of Concerned Yale Faculty Regarding Crimes Against Humanity in Israel-Palestine

With the rest of the world we watched with shock and horror as, beginning on October 7, Hamas fighters murdered hundreds of Israeli civilians, among them children and the elderly, young people at a music festival, and peace activists on kibbutzim bordering Gaza. Many individuals, families, and communities are, as we write, living with the crushing fear and uncertainty of having had loved ones taken hostage in these attacks. By every standard of international human rights law, Hamas militants have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity. We recognize Israel’s right to protect its citizens and to bring the perpetrators of these vicious acts to justice.

We also affirm that the right to live in dignity and safety knows no borders. The memory of Israeli and other victims in this heinous assault is not honored by the IDF’s current bombardment and siege of Gaza. These retaliatory strikes against hospitals, places of worship, high-rise apartment buildings, schools serving as shelters, and crowded marketplaces do not discriminate between combatants and innocent civilians. (“The emphasis is on damage, not on precision,” an IDF spokesman stated plainly.)  The same holds for the cutting off of vital fuel, electricity, food, and water to the entire Gaza Strip. Israel has taken steps to assure that humanitarian aid cannot flow into Gaza by bombing the Rafah crossing with Egypt, and has indicated that any aid coming from the Egyptian side will be met with force. All of this amounts to the calculated and intentional precipitation of a humanitarian crisis for the more than two million residents of Gaza. The Israeli government’s aims have been made clear by Defense Minister Yoav Gallant: “I have ordered a complete siege on Gaza. No electricity. No food. No fuel. No water. Everything is closed. We are fighting human animals and we act accordingly.”  

This recourse to the tactics of siege warfare is also in clear violation of international humanitarian law. Article 54 of the Geneva Convention’s Additional Protocol I states that “it is prohibited to attack, remove, or render useless objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population.” According to Article 70(2), parties to a conflict are also obliged to “allow and facilitate rapid and unimpeded passage of all relief consignments… even if such assistance is destined for the civilian population of the adverse Party.” Israel’s own Manual on the Laws of War declares that “inhabitants must be allowed to leave the city during a siege.” The current bombardment and siege have denied access to the basic necessities of life, prevented humanitarian aid from arriving, and left civilians with no place of refuge in what is widely acknowledged to be one of the most densely populated places on Earth. These are clear war crimes. And any nation offering military support to Israel—as the United States has done in delivering munitions and military equipment—becomes complicit in them.

As educators and members of a liberal arts and university community, we are committed to the protection and cultivation of freedom and flourishing for all people, everywhere. As Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote in a 1944 essay titled “The Meaning of This War”: “Tanks and planes cannot redeem humanity…. The killing of snakes will save us for the moment but not forever. The war will outlast the victory of arms if we fail to conquer the infamy of the soul…. The greatest task of our time is to take the souls of men out of the pit.”

Justice for the lives of slaughtered Israeli civilians will not arrive with the slaughter of Palestinian civilians. Palestinian armed groups and the government of Israel must cease the targeting of civilians and abandon an ethic of collective punishment. We the undersigned join all peace-loving people in calling for an end to the siege and indiscriminate bombardment of Gaza; for the release by Hamas of all Israeli hostages; for all parties to the conflict to respect the lives and basic human rights of civilians; and for life-saving aid to be allowed to flow into any area of the zone of conflict where it is needed.

I just wanted to add a few words about the impending invasion, which threatens to take the conflict to a new, even more destructive level. Although the invasion seems to be on hold for the moment as back-room dealings about the hostages take place, it’s likely that rage, revenge and muscle-flexing will bring it on eventually.

In addition to the obvious moral objections, particularly to the escalation of the already astronomic numbers of civilian casualties, there are strategic reasons for the Israelis to abandon this path. First, the deaths of many Israeli soldiers in the tunnels and unfamiliar urban streets will be further grief to a grieving country. Second, the likely entrance of Hezbollah triggered by the invasion will bring a storm of long-range missiles on a large portion of Israel. Third, any shred of international support and sympathy resulting from the October 7th massacre will evaporate, and the ensuing destruction will surely harden the hearts on both sides of the border. There is no viable future awaiting the region, following this escalation.

All arguments – moral, political and strategic – make a compelling case against the invasion, but the vision of the planners is clouded by the call for revenge, so I fear the worst.

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Marv Hoffman

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